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Harvard law professor John Palfrey's new book examines the lives of digital natives.


“Technology really wasn’t something ‘normal’ back when I was in school,” says Kari Rhame Murphy. But today, the same young girl raised in the 1950s Louisiana home of two teacher parents is the chief technology officer of a district that is one of the most highly funded in Texas, thanks to its nearness to the Houston Ship Channel. A former middle school math and computer technology teacher—the latter, at a time when teaching computers was virgin territory—Murphy now instructs the teachers and administrators of Deer Park ISD.

The Common Core State Standards Initiative is a collaborative effort between the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and the National Governors Association (NGA) that is developing core K12 standards in English-language arts and math. The current patchwork of state standards makes it difficult, if not impossible, to evaluate student performance across states and countries. Dissatisfaction with this situation is a major factor driving the effort to develop common, internationally benchmarked standards.

With more than four decades of experience in both urban and suburban districts, Gerald Kohn knows how difficult it can be to change the culture of a school district beset by poverty, social issues and politics. Yet he accepted the challenge of bringing change to the Harrisburg School District in central Pennsylvania eight years ago, because, he says, “nothing gives me more satisfaction than being able to succeed.”

Michael Smith admits he doesn’t talk much about his Web site or weekly blog with the staff, school board or community in his rural Oakland, Ill., district, because most folks probably don’t know what a blog is. That’s not a disrespectful dig, but reality: In his agricultural district 200 miles south of Chicago’s bustle—comprising only 300 students, 50 staff, two schools, and one principal—tending a Web site isn’t as high on anyone’s task list as teaching, farming the corn and soybean crops for which the region is known, or football.

Picture A behemoth machine in a 6-by-6-foot room at Inver Grove Heights Junior High School in Minnesota with cables on all sides and a paper roll printing data that was input by ninth-graders hopeful that their numbers from a recent experiment would be analyzed better than they’d been able to do so far.

They had no idea that as they watched they were experiencing for the first time what we today take for granted: an early-model computer doing its job.

Nelson Smith, president and CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

The 100-square-mile rural and suburban DeForest Area School District, located minutes from Madison, Wis., has an unlikely contributor to its work: the DeForest community at large, which through a series of well-planned conventions has been as active as any board member could be in shaping the district’s future goals.

Northern California native Jim Rowan is passionate about food. A self-taught chef, Rowan had his own catering business, cooked in resorts and hotels, and was a private chef before becoming culinary director at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash. But in July 2008, Rowan made the switch from higher ed to K12. He is now the food service director at Astoria (Ore.) School District and Naselle-Grays River Valley (Wash.) School District, which use Chartwells as their food service provider.

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